- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Roxanne Quimby already has turned a roadside business that sold honey into a multimillion-dollar cosmetics company. If her latest endeavor goes as planned, she will build a new visitors center for a national park a park that has no guarantee of ever existing.
The visitors center reflects her belief that a 3.2 million-acre park should be created in the state's vast North Woods.
Mrs. Quimby, owner of an all-natural cosmetics business called Burt's Bees, already has plowed $8 million of her profits into land acquisitions for the park, purchasing more than 15,000 acres over the past two years. That total is soon expected to reach 20,000 acres, and she intends to set aside an additional $2 million a year to expand her holdings.
Mrs. Quimby, 52, plans to open her visitors center next summer in the town of Monson, a popular stop for Appalachian Trail hikers. It would provide a tangible link to the Maine Woods national park concept proposed eight years ago by a Massachusetts group called Restore: the North Woods.
No stranger to the Maine woods, she is a former back-to-the-lander who turned beekeeper Burt Shavitz's roadside venture selling jars of honey into a cosmetics company expected to have $45 million in revenue this year.
All of her land is in Piscataquis County, where she settled in the mid-1970s after graduating from college with a degree in art. She built a log cabin in the woods in Guilford and lived there with no electricity or indoor plumbing.
After her two children were born, she knew she needed to earn more than the $3,000 a year she took in as a part-time waitress at a local diner. So she went into business with Mr. Shavitz, packaging honey in smaller jars with designer labels. They also made beeswax candles and polishes before producing lip balm, their first personal care product that is still the company's top seller.
Mrs. Quimby later bought Mr. Shavitz's share of the company, which now makes about 150 personal-care products.
She now divides her time between this village on the Maine coast and North Carolina, where Burt's Bees moved in 1994 when it outgrew its home in Guilford. But Mrs. Quimby's connection to the forests, mountains, wildlife and waters of the North Woods remains as strong as ever.
Her concern is that a major chunk of undeveloped wilderness in the Northeast is poised to be subdivided into vacation getaways for urban dwellers who live within a day's drive and are itching to own a piece of the Maine woods.
The first signs of such a change are already present, she said, citing the recent approval of house-lot sales on pristine First Roach Pond.
Prices for raw land remain low. Mrs. Quimby said she pays roughly $200 to $300 an acre, somewhat more if there are special features like a pond or a spectacular view. But she fears the window of opportunity won't remain open for long.
"People here take it for granted, this big North Woods in their back yard. 'It's always been here and it always will be,'" she said. "Once it goes to development, I feel it's going to be going retail. It's still wholesale now."
A national park, she believes, is the proper vehicle for preserving the land, but it will take a while to get everything in place. In the meantime, she is buying land she eventually hopes to donate to the National Park Service.
Although Mrs. Quimby sits on Restore's 14-member board, the wealth she achieved through Burt's Bees has enabled her to act independently and swiftly negotiate land deals that might take a nonprofit group years to carry out.
Critics of Restore's vision say a national park would destroy the region's already depressed economy by denying access to logging operations. Longtime activist Mary Adams of Garland said a park would change the character of the land and strip it of its productivity and economic potential.
"What you're really doing is exchanging freedom for captivity and coming under the government's thumb. Why would anyone want this?" said Mrs. Adams, who admires Mrs. Quimby's accomplishments but regards her as misguided.
"I've got the greatest respect for what she's been able to do. She's tough, she's bright and she's made some money. I just wish she'd use her brains for good," she said.
Supporters of the park say it would enhance the local economy by creating jobs.
Mrs. Quimby's total acreage is nearly one-tenth the size of Baxter State Park, the gift of the late Gov. Percival Baxter, to whom she has been compared. Her biggest acquisition so far has been a pair of lots, one 2,350 acres and the other 4,850 acres, for a total of $2.2 million.
Sellers range from multinationals like International Paper Co. to individual woodlot owners, and the word is out that she wants to buy more. One woman trying to sell some land suggested that her agent "see if that bee lady is interested," Mrs. Quimby said.
Some of her land borders the Appalachian Trail, and she is hoping to acquire more real estate along the trail corridor, which is owned by the National Park Service.
For the visitors center in Monson, Mrs. Quimby is buying three inexpensive houses that she plans to tear down to accommodate the new building, a parking lot and a picnic area.

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